What role will terrorism play in Nathaniel Veltman’s sentencing?

It was another emotional day in a London, Ontario courtroom as friends and relatives shared their loss following the Afzaal family murder. The family was targeted in 2021 by a driver for being Muslim. David Zura explains. 

By Michael Talbot and The Canadian Press

Nathaniel Veltman’s trial was the first time Canada’s terrorism laws were put before a jury in a first-degree murder court case.

He was ultimately found guilty in November of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ont. on June 6, 2021.

His sentencing is currently unfolding in London, with gripping victim impact statements.

Since juries don’t explain how they reach their verdict, it’s unclear what role – if any – the terror allegations played in their decision.

But according to Veltman’s defence team, terrorism will likely factor in when it comes to his sentence.

“Later this month we will come back and make submissions on sentencing, that’s when terrorism will be an issue,” said attorney Christopher Hicks, who called it a precedent-setting case.

“There’s very little law surrounding the issue of terrorism,” he said. “This will be one of the first cases, and it’s important that it’s subsequent to a jury trial and not a plea of guilty. There’s much more information here.”

Despite being found guilty, Hicks and fellow defence lawyer, Peter Ketcheson, told CityNews there are still lingering questions surrounding the terror aspect of the case.

“The Crown is going to try and use what happened in the days and weeks leading up as evidence as to what he was thinking in the moment,” said Ketcheson.

“From our perspective, that’s the issue at play (but) what was his intention at the moment that the offence occurred? So from our perspective, that’s different than in the days, the weeks, the months, coming up to it, because of his unique state of mind, because of the ailments that he has.”

“This is not a normal individual,” he added.

“This is not someone who was thinking rationally, so we really have to try and zero in on the minutes leading up to the offence, the seconds leading up to the offence, and what was in his mind, and whether that amounts to an act of terrorism or not.”

During the trial, Veltman testified that he was influenced by the writings of a gunman who committed the 2019 mass killings of 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand and said he had been considering using his pickup truck to carry out an attack.

He told the jury that he felt an “urge” to hit the Afzaal family after seeing them walking on a sidewalk, adding that he knew they were Muslims from the clothes they were wearing, and he noticed that the man in the group had a beard.

Jurors had also seen a video of Veltman telling a detective that his attack had been motivated by white nationalist beliefs.

Ketcheson says his client’s numerous mental health issues still leave room for questions about his intentions, and those questions will come up as his sentencing hearing progresses.

“We heard he has a number of mental ailments or mental health issues that he deals with. One is obsessive-compulsive disorder, another is an autism spectrum disorder, as well as many others, and how those interact together to provide Mr. Veltman with a unique way of thinking.”

“And then you hear Mr. Veltman testify at the trial that in the moments leading up to it, he’s so hyper-focused on doing away with these obsessions, doing away with these compulsive thoughts, that he wasn’t actually thinking about the consequences of his actions,” Ketcheson continued.

“The jury did find him guilty of first-degree murder, so in some way, they found that it was either planned and deliberate, or an act of terrorism, but there is still that live issue of whether or not he was doing this for the purpose of intimidating the public, or whether or not it was a way just to deal with his obsessions, his compulsions.”

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